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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


By Ken Weingartner, USTA Media Relations Manager — R Melina might not be the biggest filly around, but she has made a huge impression on co-owner Doug Paul.

“I’d take a dozen more like her if I could get it,” Paul said about the freshman trotter, who has won five of nine races, including a track-record score in the Kentuckiana Stallion Management Stakes at Harrah’s Hooser Park in September, and earned $246,613. “Every week, she goes out and gives it her all.”

R Melina, owned by the Paul family’s M&L Of Delaware and Alabama Harness Associates, is the 5-2 morning-line favorite in Thursday’s $138,000 Matron Stakes for 2-year-old female trotters at Bally’s Dover Downs. The filly will start from post six in a field of eight, with Tim Tetrick in the sulky for trainer John Butenschoen.

A daughter of Chapter Seven-Goodtogo Hanover, R Melina sold for $110,000 under the name Good To Go Chapter at last year’s Lexington Selected Yearling Sale. She was renamed in honor of Abe Stoltzfus’ daughter, who was killed a number of years ago by an impaired driver. Stoltzfus, who had a long relationship with the Pauls and helped the family select yearlings, passed away unexpectedly last month in Lexington.

“He loved this filly, and wanted us to name it after his daughter,” Paul said. “She happened to turn out. She’s been really good for us.

“She’s not a very big filly, but she’s got a nice, long, gait to her. From day one, John really liked her and thought she was nice. Her first start, she came out impressively, and she’s done very little wrong since.”

R Melina won her first start, at Mohegan Pennsylvania’s Pocono Downs, by 1-3/4 lengths in 1:57.4. She then headed out on the New York Sire Stakes circuit, where after a third-place finish, she won three in a row ahead of the NYSS championship. She went off stride on the second turn of the final at Yonkers, the only time she has failed to earn a check, but she rebounded with her 1:53.1 triumph in the Kentuckiana.

“She’s had just that one misstep,” Paul said. “She got jammed up a bit and took a bad step and went off stride. She’s more than made up for it.”

Following the Kentuckiana, R Melina was second in a division of the International Stallion Stakes, missing by a nose, and fifth in her elimination of the Breeders Crown, where she was only 1-1/4 lengths from winner Buy A Round after leading for three-quarters of the race. The top-three finishers advanced to the Breeders Crown final.

“It was a sloppy track and she cut the mile,” Paul said about the Crown elim. “Timmy was hoping he would get covered up, but she trotted right through the wire; they just got her down that long stretch.”

On Thursday, R Melina meets a field that includes two fillies from the stable of trainer Ake Svanstedt: Kentucky Commonwealth Series champion French Champagne, who is the 7-2 second choice, and Upallnight Hanover, who is 9-2.

“I think Dover should fit (R Melina) really well with the shorter stretch,” Paul said. “She was really good on half-mile tracks all through the summer.”

M&L Of Delaware, which includes Paul’s mother, Rosalind, and Alabama Harness Associates have partnered on several horses in the past two years, with more to come. Alabama Harness Associates, which is Jim McLane and Rita Armitage, is expanding into the breeding side of the business following the purchase of a farm in Kentucky. Armitage Farm purchased 15 yearlings, all trotting fillies, last month at the Lexington sale.

“We’re going to race them, and then they’ll eventually be broodmares on their farm,” Paul said. “They’re new to the business. I got to know them through a mutual friend. They’re great people, and they are enthused to get into the breeding business.”

As for R Melina’s future this season following the Matron, Paul said her connections would take a wait-and-see approach.

“She still has the Goldsmith Maid,” Paul said. “If she’s sharp and comes out of this race OK, we’ll consider going. If we think she’s a little tired, we’ll shut her down and bring her back next year.”

Racing begins at 4:30 p.m. (EDT) at Dover Downs. Thursday’s card also includes the $145,000 Matron Stakes for 2-year-old male pacers, where the Ron Burke-trained Noblesville is the 5-2 favorite.

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